Chatham Children's Fund Is Home For The Holidays

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Social services

Children's Fund champions pose near the organization's headquarters on Stony Hill Road. ALAN POLLOCK PHOTO

CHATHAM Having provided a measure of financial stability for local families for decades, the Chatham Children's Fund is now enjoying a little stability of its own – just in time for the holidays.

On Monday, resident David Oppenheim said he and his wife, Gail, intend to make the office at 210 Stony Hill Rd. available to the Children's Fund on a permanent basis. It's a boon for the longstanding nonprofit, which has shuttled between various temporary spaces for years.

“We've been nomads,” Children's Fund organizer Pat Vreeland said. “This location is fabulous. We are blessed to have David and Gail be so invested in the children.”

Part of the benefit of the new office is the visibility it brings. Vreeland said volunteers will soon be handing out winter coats and boots to as many as 125 Chatham families. And if most people knew that more than 200 Chatham children get Christmas toys through the Children's Fund, “they'd be blown away,” she said.

“We feel strongly about children,” Mr. Oppenheim said. When it comes to the holiday toy drive, “we believe every kid should have at least one good day,” he said.

The building, a former travel agency and law office across from the senior center, has been the Children's Fund headquarters for the past two years, on loan from the Oppenheims. The office is already strewn with bags of donated clothes organized by size, but in a few weeks the place will be filled with donated toys. Some of the donations come from a drive held by Chatham firefighters, and others are custom gifts from donors who have adopted an anonymous youngster, and who've shopped for specific toys and items the child has requested.

In addition to the fact that it focuses on Chatham children, the Children's Fund prides itself on providing help with a personal touch. If a family has asked for winter clothing for their children, volunteers make sure that the siblings don't get matching coats. “And we don't want to buy the hip-hop kid preppy clothes,” Vreeland said.

Even teens – who are notoriously difficult to shop for – receive more than just a gift card for clothing or electronics. Each teen receives a personalized gift they can unwrap, based on their individual interests. A longtime school nurse, Vreeland still has plenty of connections in the schools who tip her off to individual students' hobbies or interests.

Whenever possible, Chatham Children's Fund volunteers strive to find Christmas gifts that individual children want, even if they're the hard-to-get toys of the season (Fingerlings figures, this year). It might also mean getting a doll that has the same skin or hair color as the child who will receive it.

All year long, but especially around the holidays, the Children's Fund relies on its partnerships with other nonprofits, churches and businesses. It has a close relationship with Lower Cape Outreach, and a longtime partnership with Monomoy Community Services, which refers many of the group's clients. The Congregational Church provides a grant using funds from its pumpkin sale, Vreeland added. And local clothing stores routinely donate new clothes, something that's been difficult to accept when the Children's Fund has been in cramped, temporary quarters.

The Chatham Children's Fund simply wouldn't exist without its major financial donor: the Angel Fund. Backed by business leaders and coordinator Ginny Nickerson, the Angel Fund sells its famous Christmas ornaments each year to support the Children's Fund.

Volunteer shoppers and financial donors are still needed, Vreeland said. As they did last year, the Chatham Merchants' Association is holding a special event at the Wayside Inn to invite business owners and other adults to contribute. The fun event will take place on Nov. 30 at 5 p.m.

“It's an easy way to donate,” Vreeland said.

Some people who were once Chatham Children's Fund clients are now volunteer shoppers, Vreeland said, but the holiday gift program can only accomplish so much.

“We're not changing them from being needy,” she said. The underlying conditions – the high cost of housing and the scarcity of well-paying year-round jobs – don't go away because of the holidays, she noted. But the program provides much-needed relief at a key time of year.

Around Christmastime, families with children will often pull out the stops to make sure their kids have gifts to open, “even if they don't have food or they don't pay the rent,” Vreeland said.